The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Reviewed by Sarah Miller
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
Imagine a future where each year the government gathers all children between the ages of 12 and 18 and selects a boy and a girl from a lottery drawing. The "winner" goes to participate in the deadly Hunger Games. This haunting scene takes place on the continent of Panem, once known as North America. The Capitol is the central district, rich and powerful, and home to the government that controls 12 nameless districts. Barbed wire fences contain the districts, and yet nobody wishes to escape and face certain death in the surrounding forests.
In The Hunger Games, the first installment of her new trilogy, Suzanne Collins executes this futuristic setting with realistic ease. The story follows the emotional journey of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old woman who learned at a young age to provide for her mother and younger sister, Prim, the only family she has. Navigating the wild forests beyond the fences of District 12, Katniss and her friend, Gale, hunt for meat and edible plants for food for their families and to use as trade goods for the market.
The story begins on the day of Reaping -- the day the tributes are chosen in all of the districts -- which is televised across the nation. Like all other chidren of District 12, Katniss is coralled into the square to await the lottery. Soon her deepest fears are realized: Prim's name is chosen. Without hesitation, Katniss jumps in to volunteer herself in Prim's place, though this sacrifice brings an almost certain death sentence.
The heart-wrenching scene of Katniss throwing herself in front of her sister is televised throughout Panem. Citizens of the Capitol watch with voyeuristic obsession, mimicking the reality-TV fanaticism in our culture today.
Collins's mastery of character realism provokes questions of survival and endurance and invokes an emotional connection to Katniss during her heartrending experience. As Gale points out to his friend:
"Katniss, it's just hunting. You're the best hunter I know," says Gale.
"It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think," I say.
"So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice," he adds. "You know how to kill."
"Not people," I say.
"How different can it be, really?" says Gale grimly.
The awful thing is that if I can forget they're people, it will be no different at all.
Collins adeptly allows the reader to struggle with these sensitive trials; the reader is wary of becoming too fond of a character in case he or she is killed. After all, the likelihood of that happening is high -- 23 characters in the novel will not survive.
Because of this realism, there were times I wanted to stop reading. But, the story is penned so wonderfully that I found myself cheering Katniss on, hoping she'd win the Hunger Games. And, yet, I struggled with the fact that cheering her on meant cheering for the death of others. The author's fiction creates such a reality, perhaps proving our desensitization to war. We as a society, through excitement engendered via the news or TV shows such as Survivor, have become obsessed with the concept of survival as a mode of entertainment.
As a bibliophile who is fondly interested in young adult literature, I found The Hunger Games to be one of the best books I've read, regardless of its difficult content. As an extremely thought-provoking piece of literature, I hope this book will be added to English curriculums across the country, sparking conversations about subjects such as war, poverty, and death. Collins raises the intellectual bar, while empowering young adults with tools to instigate their own opinions and ideas.
With that said, one must recognize an appropriate age level for this book. Collins approaches the content tastefully, giving readers enough information without detailed, bloody, and unnecessary violence. But, although I wish for everybody to read The Hunger Games, it is intended for mature young adults who can handle its difficult themes. If video games, due to gory content and violence, are rated "T" for teens, then this book should be rated that way, as well.
So be warned: this is not a story for the feint of heart. But the characters come alive in such a way that I felt like I abandoned them each time I set the book down. Fervently addicted to the very end, I'm finding it hard to patiently await the next installment of the trilogy.